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The recent dog bite tragedy in Waxhaw, where little Makayla Woodard lost her life and her grandmother suffered injuries trying to protect her grandchild struck a nerve in my heart and brought tears to my eyes.
It just so happened that our 5-year old son, Tanner Landires, was attacked by the neighbor’s dogs in the Arlington community last July.
The dogs’ owner lost control of the animals that day when she opened the door to the house and they charged out and raced down the road several houses away. One of them attacked my son in his own front yard while he was playing. Thank goodness his grandmother, Debra Omans, was nearby and managed to disengage the dog before even more damage was done to his little body.
Little did we know that calling on law enforcement and animal control would result in such a long journey through the legal system and a sad education in state and county dog laws and ordinances.
We were informed by the officers, who arrived on the scene, there was very little they could do, short of issuing the dog owners a citation for a leash law violation of $50.
They would also contact Animal Control officials so the incident could be documented and investigated, and said the state Department of Health and Environmental Control would be in touch with us regarding the animal’s rabies shot status.
The officers informed the dog owners the offending animal would have to be quarantined and placed under “house arrest,” even though it was the owner’s inability to keep the animal within the house in the first place that resulted in Tanner being attacked and injured. That logical conclusion still escapes my limited mental grasp of the situation.
Initially, we attempted to negotiate directly with the dog owners asking them to consider euthanizing the animal responsible for the bites in exchange for waiving all legal and medical liability.
I even went so far as to offer to buy the animal and take it to the shelter myself .
I felt in my heart that it was the right thing to do to prevent future injuries to my children or anyone else. All offers were declined.
The Animal Control officer conducting the investigation informed us the dog would continue to be under house arrest and kept under periodic evaluation.
When I asked if they would take possession of the animal and have it euthanized, he informed us that would be an unlikely outcome if the animal had not been previously deemed a dangerous animal.
We were devastated by this tidbit, which led to a merry chase for additional information through the labyrinth of dog laws, ordinances and loopholes designed to protect the animal, not the child who is attacked.
If there is not a recorded incident of the same animal previously attacking another human being, then it is given a pass on its first attack. The best we could hope for was the dog that attacked our son to be declared a dangerous animal, which would require the owners to more carefully handle the aggressive animal.
However, this required the investigation be passed up the chain of command to the director of Animal Control, which we requested. The process was a long and laborious one, but, ultimately, the attacking dog was declared a dangerous animal, and this assessment was accepted by the dog’s owners.
We followed the letter of the law and secured what we thought would be the very best legal remedy we could. At the very least, the animal that attacked Tanner would be required to be under very strict security guidelines and should never be allowed to escape the house unmuzzled or unattended, as long as the owners of the dogs followed the requirements.
Months passed, and Tanner’s wounds healed, though scars remain to this day, both of the flesh and of the mind when it comes to dogs.
A similar incident happened on Dec. 13. Tanner’s mother, Anne Landires, and his sister, Tessa, arrived home early that day to discover those same dogs running at large on her street.
The dog owners were not home and somehow the dogs managed to open the front door and run loose in the neighborhood yet again. Two of the dogs confronted Anne in the street in front of her own home, showing their teeth, barking and advancing aggressively. One of them was the very same dog deemed by Animal Control to be a dangerous animal.
Another neighbor heard the commotion and came to Anne and Tessa’s aid, chasing the dogs back into the owner’s home using a large metal rod.
The “dangerous” dog retreated back into the home, but the other dog ran off into the neighborhood.
Anne called the sheriff’s office and Animal Control as soon as she and Tessa could safely get out of her vehicle and run into the house.
Thus began our second journey through the legal system in an attempt to protect our children from dangerous dogs, non-complying owners and the laws designed to hinder victims from seeking not only justice, but the pursuit of happiness and safety in our own home and yard. It took a month to have a voice within our local judicial system. The hearing was scheduled for Jan. 13.
The judge fined the dog owners $250 for failing to properly secure their animals, and released the animal back into custody of the owners, and back into the Arlington community with hundreds of residents and potential victims.
Having experienced this roller-coaster ride through our law enforcement and judicial system through two inconclusive ends, it is no wonder to me that we suffer an average 4.7 million dog bites per year as American citizens, (and these are merely the reported cases). I would be willing to bet the true number of dog attacks is far greater than that.
As long as legislators bicker over budget deficits, laws designed to protect our youth from video game violence and other such topics, the number of dog bite victims will continue to grow, as long as our society and the officials responsible for protecting us continue to turn a deaf ear to the pleas for help and a blind eye to the facts before them.
You better believe my heart and soul goes out to Makayla Woodard and her family.
I was so thankful to be able to kiss my son good night and tuck him into bed tonight. Yes, we are the lucky ones. We still have our beloved son.
My heart goes out to all of the dog bite victims to come in our collective future, because our entire system is designed to protect the dogs and provide legal roadblocks for the victims.